Friday, October 13, 2017

Great Scott!

Christopher Lloyd is a treasure when it comes to American cinema.  Whether you know him from his iconic role as Doc Brown in the Back to the Future franchise, the ultimate cartoon baddie in Who Framed Roger Rabbit?, the mischievous Uncle Fester in The Addams Family, or any one of his other countless, grade-A performances, Mr. Lloyd has likely made an impression on you.  For me, personally, his portrayals of Al in Angels in the Outfield and "Sleepy Bill" Burns in Eight Men Out were a pair of my personal favorites growing up.  On that note, did you know that these two characters are not the man's only connection to our nation's great pastime?  Did you know that Christopher Lloyd actually took the field on the professional level?

Okay... so, not exactly...

I don't know about you, but it's impossible not to make that connection, at least in my screwed up brain.  For the record, when Loyd Christopher made his Major League debut in 1945, Christopher Lloyd was a scant seven years old.

Anyway, I recently picked up the 1950 Remar Bread single of the non-acting Christoher, Loyd on Ebay.  The slightly under-sized, super-vintage single has some flaws - most notably, some dark spots, rounded corners, and a black mark in the upper left portion of the border.  However, otherwise, the sepia-toned single is in pretty decent condition for a 67-year old slip of cardboard which originally came packaged with loaves of bread.  Plus, while this Loyd never made it to the silver screen, he did make it onto the game's grandest stage, the Major League diamond, and did so with the Chicago Cubs.  As an obscure, war-era need for my CATRC, he has not been easy to track down.  Thus, when I saw this Remar on "the Bay" I knew I needed to pull the trigger.

When I saw that it's listed BIN price was a mere $1, I think I clicked so hard that I almost broke my mouse.  Granted, I did have to pay a little too much for shipping; but, for four dollars total, I think I did pretty well in snagging one of Christopher's rare cardboard appearances.

From 1945-50, the Oakland-based Remar Baking Co. put out an annual set of baseball cards, paying tribute to their local Pacific Coast League club, the Oakland Oaks.  IN case you were curious, Remar operated from 1922 until 1988, at the corner of 46th street and Adeline, before it was absorbed by Wonder Bread.  Around the turn of the 21st century, the old Remar building was abandoned by Wonder and the structure was converted into lofts.  Now, where bread once rose, people now rise to make their morning commute.

Image courtesy of Sanfranman59

Luckily for me, after his time spent in the Majors, Loyd Christopher came to Oakland, where he starred for five years in the California sun and appeared in the 1950 set.  As you can see from the vital stats provided on the back of this Remar single, Christopher was a decent power hitter.  Also on the back is some advertising copy for the bakery, encouraging friendship and listenership, alongside a drawing of Remar's Sunbeam bread.  All in all, it's your standard, quaint fair when it comes to old school minor league sets.

This is actually the second Remar single to make it into my collection.  A few years ago, in the early days of this blog, Stubby - the famed blog reader/commenter - graciously sent me the first such card to enter into my collection:

Loyd's Oaks teammate, Gene Lillard, had a card in the 1947 edition of Remar baseball cards and, as you can see, the design for the sets didn't change all that much, from year to year.  All in all, these under-sized oddballs make from great, off-the-beaten-path additions to my CATRC, especially because these two men don't have much of a cardboard footprint, otherwise.

Meanwhile, now that we have a better understanding of Remar cards, maybe it's time we dug a little deeper in regards to the original subject depicted - Loyd Christopher.

Loyd Christopher with the White Sox, circa 1947, and Christopher Lloyd messing up the White Sox in Eight Men Out.

His pro baseball career started off with a bang in 1938, when he smacked a home run on the first pitch he ever saw.  It was certainly a grandiose start to what would ultimately be a long career in affiliated baseball.

After a few years in the Yankee chain, the outfielder shuffled from the Yanks to the Red Sox via the Rule 5 Draft, prior to the 1945 season.  After eight games of action and four hits in limited duty with Bostonians, Loyd was ruled as surplus and allowed to depart on waivers to the Chicago Cubs.  In the midst of their last pennant winning season until 2016, the Cubbies held onto Christopher for a month and a half and, yet, he only made it into a single game for the eventual NL Champs.  On May 30th, against the New York Giants, Loyd ran out to left field as a defensive replacement and played the last two innings of an 8-6 loss without a single ball hit his way.  He ddi not make a plate appearance.  Weeks later, without any further action, he was farmed out to their PCL affiliate, the Los Angeles Angels.

And, it was in the Pacific Coast League where Loyd would spend most of the rest of his career.  After a brief cameo with the White Sox in 1947, the book was officially closed on his Major League stat line.  After three seasons with the Angels, the California native took his talents to Oakland from 1948-52, before injuries forced him into retirement.  After an aborted comeback attempt in 1955, Loyd officially hung up his spikes for good.

However, though his time as a player was through, Loyd's time with the sport was far from over.  Shortly after his final season, he began an extremely successful second life as a scout, a role in which he served several organizations from 1957 right up to his 1991 death from prostate cancer.  Along the way, Mr. Christopher was able to get such luminaries as Dennis Eckersley, Dick Tidrow, and Carney Lansford to sign on the dotted line.

He may not be a heralded today and I may have hard time keeping his name straight, but Loyd Christopher was a baseball lifer - cut from the same cloth as Don Zimmer and Tommy Lasorda, but without the recognition.

With that, we have the story on Loyd Christopher - definitely not the same person who voiced The Pagemaster, one-game wonder for the Chicago Cubs, Pacific Coast League standout, and scouting extraordinaire.  Welcome to the Cubs All-Time Roster Collection, Loyd!

I'm still somewhat dumbfounded that this Remar Bakery single popped up on Ebay for chump change... it's a mystery worthy of Professor Plum!

Wednesday, October 11, 2017

Look At The Pelicans

This past weekend, my wife and I flew down to to the Carolinas to attend the wedding of her best friend.  It was a fun and chaotic weekend, filled with beach houses, last minute chores, plenty of spirits, and excellent company, capped off with an absolutely beautiful ceremony and reception.  But, as busy as our schedules were with these festivities, the wife and I were still able to sneak away and do some of the touristy stuff that we so desired.  We traveled to Wilmington, NC to tour the decommissioned U.S.S. North Carolina battleship, sampled several delightful eateries in the nearby area, and took a long, nighttime stroll on the Atlantic coastline.  All in all, it was a extremely busy, but super fun weekend.  While I may have missed the first three games of the Cubs/Nats playoff series, it was more than worth our while.

However, seeing as we flew Spirit, things were a little haywire when we arrived in Myrtle Beach, SC to catch our flight back to the Windy City.  Due to some staffing issues, our flight was delayed a couple of hours and we suddenly had some extra time on our hands to spend in the Wisconsin Dells of the south.  What to do?

Look at the Pelicans, of course!

Tony Montana might looking at actual pelicans; but, that's okay because we weren't aiming to see real pelicans either (nor flamingos, for that matter).  Rather, we hopped in a Lyft and drove down the road a piece to visit the home stadium of the Myrtle Beach Pelicans - aka the High-A affiliate of the Chicago Cubs.  In fact, this sign was hanging in the baggage claim area:

Furthermore, all of the columns in the area were mocked up to look like the ivy-covered Wrigley wall.   This tourist trap is obviously very proud of their cash cow connection to the 2016 World Series Champs.  As they should be!

Anyway, even though minor league baseball season concluded over a month ago, I was thrilled to discover that the Pelicans team store remains open year-round and I was still in need of some souvenirs - looks liek I'd be getting my Cubs fix on the weekend after all!  As Jose Quintana and crew were prepping for their Game 3 showdown with Max Scherzer, we took a quick, ten minute ride down the road to stand at the threshold of the clunkily-named TicketReturn.Com Field,

That might actually be worse than Guaranteed Rate Field - although, at least they save it with the "Pelicans Ballpark" subtitle.

At any rate, set back a few miles from the main strips and surrounded by some lovely palm trees and shrubbery, Pelicans Ballpark is a relatively new stadium, having opened in 2011, which was purposely designed to resemble the ballparks of old. 

Before making any  purchases at the pro shop, I was quickly informed by an employee that the entire complex was still open to the public, excluding the playing surface, of course.  According to my wife, at that moment, the smile on my face stretched to about the length of the airstrips we had just left.    Outside of the skeleton crew on staff to maintain the place during the off-season, my wife and I were the only souls at the park and so, we immediately set off on a private, unguided tour of the stadium.

In the midst of our exploration, I managed to snap a few pictures before the rains came; here's the view from just under the broadcasters' booth:

Then, there was my favorite characteristic of the whole complex - a wall emblazoned with all the names of every Pelican player to make the ultimate ascent to the Big Leagues:

The wall is littered with the names of current and former Cubbies - here's a sampling of some of the bigger names who once called Myrtle Beach and Chicago home:

Ironically,  two of these men played for the Pelicans before they became affiliated with the Second City franchise.  In the past, Myrtle Beach has had a working agreement with the Atlanta Braves and Texas Rangers, the organizations with which both Heyward and Hendricks were originally drafted and developed by.  Funny how that works out, isn't it?

Moving on, here's a panorama from the left field-corner open area, set up to resemble a beach:

I tell you, it took me every ounce of self control and every strand of moral fiber in my body not to hop that tiny fence.  However, since our recently married friend lives in the nearby and we'll likely being coming back to the area at some point, I'd like to be able to attend an actual game next time.  It'd be hard to do that if I got banned from the premises!

In the above snapshot, you might notice that there is a batting cage just beyond the sandy, open area along the left field fence, so that minor league prospects can work on their batting stroke.   It was here that I was able to snag a surprise treasure:

It's a little worse for wear, but that's a bonafide, game-used or BP-used Carolina League baseball that I found nestled just outside of the netting.  It must have been left behind at the last batting practice session; so, I took the liberty of rescuing it from abandonment and taking it to a loving home.  It makes for a nifty, piece-of-the-park-type souvenir.

Speaking of souvenirs, it was at this point that the skies began to open up and decided to loop back to the team store.  I wish I snapped a picture of the retail area, but trust me when I say that the place immaculate and jam-packed with just about any bit of Pelicans or Cubs merchandise that you could dream up.  Heck, there was even Pelican-branded wine, courtesy of the locally-based Duplin Winery, which I totally would have took home with me if I weren't about to board a plane.  In the end, seeing as I already had my bonus baseball, I didn't feel compelled to open my wallet for much else.  Of course, I this is a baseball card blog and I am a trading card nut; so, I suppose that you might be able to guess what the one, minor purchase I made ended up being:

Yeaaaaaaa, I just couldn't help but pick up a cello pack of the 2017 Myrtle Beach Pelicans team set, printed by minor league mavens, Choice.  Who knows, maybe in a few years, some of these cards of baby Cubs will be of great use to my Cubs All-Time Roster Collection?  

Shall we take a look and see who the Pelicans employed in 2017?  Yes, we shall:

Here's the only player in the set who's reached the Majors - not such a surprise, seeing as not many men shoot all the way up from A-ball to the Bigs in just one season.  Dillon Maples is a late bloomer who finally clicked in '17 and, on the strength of his breaking ball, earned a September call-up.  He likely has a strong shot at securing a regular bullpen spot in '18, as well.

As for the cards themselves, they were clearly designed with autographs in mind - I obviously missed the boat on that.  As such, the signature box can be a bit distracting and detrimental to the design without a John Hancock; but it still looks nice overall.  All in all, with glossy, thin card-stock and a large checklist, it's your standard minor league, team issued set.

The backs offer a brief write-up and a couple of years of stats for each player - nothing exciting here, just the basic facts, ma'am.

Meanwhile, here are some exciting names to look out for - top prospects who may very well join Happ, Hendricks, Heyward, and Maples on that alumni wall:

Much has been made of the Cubs' inability to develop pitchers; but, at Myrtle Beach, the potential is there.  Thomas Hatch was their first selection in the 2016 draft, had a successful debut in pro baseball this season and could move quickly.  Adbert Alzolay broke out with an arsenal fit for the middle of the starting rotation.  Oscar De La Cruz continues to battle health issues, but has long dazzled prospectors with his ability to miss bats.  All three were ranked as top 10 Cubs prospects by Baseball America during their most recent, mid-season roundup.

Maybe these guys will prove that Theo and Co. CAN develop arms.

And on the other side of the ball...

The pickins are a lot more slim.  Eddy Julio Martinez was a marquee international free agent signing  in 2015; however, his quick and compact power stroke has yet to translate to the States.  At age 22, there's still time for him; however, that window is getting a little smaller.  Carlos Sepulveda is a middle infielder with a plus glove and a minus bat.  He could eventually develop into a Big League utility man; but, that appears to be his ceiling.

Like I said, Myrtle is not teeming with positional prospects.

Here's three-fifths of the package given up by the Cubs in the Jose Quintana trade (who just so happened to be on the bump for the Big League team that afternoon).  Eloy Jimenez looks like he's going to be a good player in the near future for the Southsiders; however, with the way that Q has been dealing lately and his super team-friendly contract, this deal has the potential to be mutually beneficial for a while.

Another pair of intriguing arms.  Pedro Arajuo is currently pitching for the Mesa Solar Sox in the Arizona Fall League and Ryan Kellogg was selected in the fifth round of the 2015 amateur draft.  Although, if I'm being honest, I mostly wanted to show off the ladder because of the lovely palm tree background found in his picture.  You don't get that in Chicago!

To wrap things up, one of the things we card bloggers love about minor league sets is that everyone gets involved.  While Topps barely acknowledges all nine starters on any given team, Choice has given cards to almost all players, plus...




...and ball-return dogs... yup, you read that right.  That's a thing!

Deuce the Yellow Lab delivers new baseballs to the umpires, collects stray bats, and does a victory lap each time the Pelicans come out on top - America's pastime can be so adorable.  Also, I'd be curious to see how this card would look "signed."  Just another reason to love minor league baseball.

Another thing to love about minor league baseball, besides the cute dog mascots and expansive card sets?  The fact that you can spontaneously decide to visit a local, MiLB stadium on Columbus Day, a month after the season's end, and get nearly access to nearly the entire complex and pro shop with help from who my wife described as "literally the nicest guy ever"... try that at Wrigley or Fenway or Camden or what have you one of these days and see what happens.  All in all, the experience was the perfect capstone on an already stellar weekend trip.

We've established that Tony Montana is not able to recognize pelicans, but I can recognize a first-class organization when I see one... and the Myrtle Beach Pelicans are just that.

Wednesday, October 4, 2017

Clubhouse? More Like Cardboard Wheelhouse

When I was in my early teens, I took a sabbatical from the Cubs and baseball and began fervently following the sport of auto racing, specifically NASCAR.  I suppose that a lot of this had to do with the passing of my grandfather, who stoked my early love for our nation's pastime.  Additionally, like most kids, I had a fascination with Hot Wheels cars as a kid and the brightly-colored 1:64 scale stock cars always caught my eye.  Furthermore, my parents had long been aficionados of the Indianapolis 500 and I guess I just hitched my wagon to the most popular form of motorsport at the time.  Anyway, long story short, for a while in the early 2000's, the Cubbies took a backseat to NASCAR when it came to my sporting interests.

Obviously, things have since returned to normal.

Being that I am a card-carrying, card collector, during my foray into the world of stock cars, I acquired a fair amount of NASCAR-related cardboard.  Also, being that I am kind of a hoarder, most of said cardboard has survived to the present day.  Naturally, when I rediscovered them in my parents' shed a few years back, I couldn't help but want to supplement those cards with updates.  And so, in the same way that I collect the Cubs, Bears, Blackhawks, and Bulls all-time roster, my all-time NASCAR collection was officially born.

I've posted about my endeavor to collect at least one card of every driver to turn laps at NASCAR's highest level (that has one, anyway) on this here blog sporadically, seeing as this is basically my card-collecting diary.  Adam, of Cardboard Clubhouse, has paid attention to these posts (judging by the view counts, most people don't) and recently whipped together a surprise PWE filled with "NASCARDS."  Gotta love the generosity of the blogosphere, right?

All of the selections came from the new new exclusive license holder, Panini, and their 2016 Donruss product; Panini stepped in to fill the vaccuum after Press Pass went belly-up.  A lot has changed since I last focused on NASCAR pasteboards... and so too has the sport.  For instance, Ryan Blaney's father, Dave, was one of my favorite racers way back when and now the kid has become one of the hottest pilots on the circuit.  Furthermore, Martin Truex's Furniture Row Racing team was a back-marker, a team that used to be lucky to qualify for any given race.  Now, this Denver-based team is the leading contender for the Cup championship.  My how time changes.

Speaking of change, here's a trio of big names from my halcyon days, who were elder statesmen when this release hit store shelves, and have since retired from the sport all together.  However, seeing some familiar faces in this envelope was a welcoming sight, even if it was just a reminder of how life rolls on like an army of steamrollers.


These two were around when I was around too and. at least as far as Matt Crafton is concerned, I'm a little surprised.  Like, Furniture Row Racing, Crafton was a bit of a stroker in the third-tier truck series when I was tuning in every weekend.  Apparently, since then, he's gone on to be one of the major players and title contenders in what used to be called the Craftsmen Truck Series.  Additionally, last year he made his Cup series debut, filling in for an injured Kyle Busch in the 2015 Daytona 500.  Even though that's his only start at the org's highest level, that still made him a need for my all-time collection!

Driver portraits are all well and good, but let's be honest:  the cars are the star attraction in any motorsport series.  While I would prefer a combo of driver portrait/car shot on the fronts of my trading cards, Panini opted for a little either/or action in their Donruss checklist.  Although, I suppose this card is actually meant to spotlight the pit crew.  C'est la vie.

The running theme of change continues with this card, as the Danica Patrick/NASCAR experiment appears to be over, as it's been announced she won't be returning to Stewart Haas Racing and doesn't appear to be connected to any other open rides.  That's fine with me though - selfishly, I want her to return to the place where she made a name for herself, in a car without fenders at the Brickyard!

Here's another bunch of cards which prominently features the drivers' automobiles.  Specifically, this triage showcases the special paint schemes that teams run over the course of a 36-race schedule.  Sponsors and promotions come and go throughout that lengthy season; so, naturally, the cars often look different from week-to-week.  Having a subset dedicated to that concept is an excellent idea - so, good job on that Panini!

It should also be noted that Dale Earnhardt, Jr. will also be joining the previously mentioned Tony Stewart, Greg Biffle, and Carl Edwards in the NASCAR retirement home, come the end of the 2017 campaign.  There's that undercurrent of change again, which has weaved throughout the entirety of this post.

The last card in Adam's extremely generous PWE was another selection from that special paint scheme subset, this one featuring the number 6 of Trevor Bayne and Roush Fenway Racing.  This card bears special significance to me, for a pair of reasons:

First, the six's current pilot, Trevor Bayne, is sponsored by Advocare, a company with which my wife is a distributor and who's products have helped my quite a bit over the last few years. Their products have helped me clean up my diet, lose 20 pounds, and greatly improve my cardiovascular fitness (and I'm, a runner, so that's pretty important to me).  Plus, their natural, vitamin-enhanced energy supplement, Spark, has drastically reduced by dependency on sugary death traps like Monster and Red Bull.  Combine these factors with the fact that they sign a paycheck with my wife's name on it creates a special sort of attachment to the 2011 Daytona 500 champ.

Although I don't really collect NASCAR die-cast anymore (but that was a massive accumulation of mine back then) I couldn't help but pick up the NASCAR Authentics version of Bayne's 2016, Advocare-emblazoned Ford Fusion when I saw it on the rack at Walmart.  Even my wife thought it was cool!

Second, like seemingly every other card in this post, represents change.  You see, the special paint scheme on the bottom portion is purposely evocative of the iconic Valvoline paint scheme run by Roush and it's former driver Mark Martin for many years.  In fact, I dare say that driver/sponsor pairing is one of the most iconic in the sport's history and I can't help but feel that twinge of nostalgia when I gaze upon it.  That's just how the number six is suppose to look to me.

With that, we've reached the end of the surprise envelope.  I hope you enjoyed the ride! My thanks go out to Adam for putting together such a intriguing and thought-provoking PWE - I'll be sure to whip together a proper return package and get it out your way in the near future, good sir!

Cardboard Clubhouse?  More like Cardboard Wheelhouse!  Am I right?